Possibly no city in the United States is as maniacal about one team as is Miami about the Super Bowl champion Dolphins. Forget that the Dolphins have sold 78,000 season tickets, the most ever by a pro football team. Note instead that it is impossible to move around Miami without encountering Dolphinmania in one form or other.
Middle-aged fans happily wear T shirts in the Dolphin team colors—aqua, orange and white—with their own names over the numbers of the great and mighty: 39 (Larry Csonka), 21 (Jim Kiick), 42 (Paul Warfield). The Miami city transit system this year has changed the colors of its buses to those of the Dolphins. Newspaper ads and TV commercials show replicas of Dolphins, and establishments such as Dolphin Plumbing are now on the business landscape. Several players have their own radio shows, and Coach Don Shula has his TV program. A duck hunting guide in the Everglades refuses to book customers for Mondays; they are reserved to take Dolphin players shooting in the swamps. At the last annual meeting of one insurance company (Manufacturers Life), the president called upon salesmen to emulate the Dolphins and go to the top fast and, having said that, he passed out Dolphin T shirts to members of the board of directors.
"The main reason for Dolphinmania is that Miami has never had anything before to draw it together as a city and to give it a winner," says Senior Writer John Underwood, author of the story on Don Shula in this issue. "People up North used to confuse Miami with Miami Beach, and when they thought of sports it was Jackie Gleason riding around in a golf cart. And some still do."
A Miami resident himself, Underwood may dwell amid Dolphinmania (son John Jr., age six, has four No. 39 T shirts) but, as befits a writer who travels the world on assignments, he tries to keep a sense of perspective about his hometown and the team. When the Dolphins first began in 1966 as an expansion team in the old American Football League, Underwood—a scholar of football—bought season tickets despite his skepticism about the team's success. "Miami was always a football town—but mainly for college football, especially the University of Miami Hurricanes," he says. "That first season attendance was only 18,000 or 20,000 a game in the Orange Bowl, but the Dolphins, somewhat like the New York Mets, always gave the fans something, a little bit at a time. In the very first game of the very first season a halfback named Joe Auer, who later hurt himself overturning a dune buggy, returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown against Oakland. That kind of thing kept the fans coming back for more, and the Dolphins kept giving them a little more."
The Dolphins took a nose dive in 1969, the year before Shula took over. When the Dolphins announced that Shula was coming down from Baltimore, Underwood was not overwhelmed. He had recently written a story in which he referred to Shula as "a faceless pro coach." Taking over the team during the player strike, Shula immediately impressed everyone by running four practices a day to make up for lost time. "A ragtag group of players began to look like a good team," Underwood recalls. Following the rise of the Dolphins, Underwood wrote a long piece on Kiick and Csonka (SI, Aug. 7, 1972). Through it all Underwood kept thinking back on his "faceless coach" remark. He had obviously misjudged his man, who seemed to have become someone special. Underwood began working on his reappraisal in June. As he puts it now, "I used to think Shula was a salad without dressing until I began to dig into him." Readers may dig into the Shula salad beginning on page 120.